Alvaro Morata's struggles continue while Andreas Christensen impresses at PAOK
Chelsea's Europa League travel adventure got off to a winning start as the London club maintained their 100 percent start to the season by beating Greek top-flight side PAOK 1-0 in an atmosphere-laden Toumba Stadium.
Blues boss Maurizio Sarri named a strong starting XI and was rewarded early on when captain for night Willian scored a well-crafted goal. The margin of victory should have been far wider, but Chelsea were guilty of some woeful finishing with misfiring striker Alvaro Morata the main culprit.
The feel-good factor from making it six wins from six under Sarri will stand Chelsea in good stead as they prepare for three tough games in succession with West Ham in the league, Liverpool in the Carabao Cup and then Liverpool again in the league. Andreas Christensen, restored to the Blues backline, caught the eye as did Ross Barkley deputising for Mateo Kovacic in midfield. The partnership of Jorginho and N'Golo Kante remains sublime to watch.
Chelsea's inability to put the game out of PAOK's reach was shameful given the number of chances -- Chelsea had 18 shots -- squandered.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Sarri's team selection and choice of captain was met with amazement and a degree of criticism by many Chelsea supporters who were expecting more rotation and hoping that the Italian would give youngsters Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi a chance to shine at least off the bench. Neither player featured in the Italian's matchday squad and his starting XI, surprisingly skippered by Willian, featured only five changes from the side that thrashed Cardiff City 4-1 on Saturday. Sarri had the last laugh though, his decision-making vindicated by the result.
Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 6 -- A spectator for much of the game, Kepa appeared to lack concentration on the rare occasions he was called into action. Poor handling brought with it a couple of nervy moments but luck was on his side.
DF Davide Zappacosta, 7 -- Solid at right-back and made several decent runs forward down the flank linking up well with Pedro.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 7 -- Solid and dependable at centre-back, Rudiger was in the right places at the right times to block and tackle Chelsea out of the occasional tight spots they found themselves in particularly in the second half.
DF Andreas Christensen, 8 -- A major plus for Chelsea was the commanding shift put in by Christensen who has had to sit patiently on the bench so far this season with Sarri opting for the experience of David Luiz. The Denmark international's precise distribution out of defence was a reminder of his ability. He will surely get more chances to start as the season unfolds.
DF Marcos Alonso, 6 -- Was given a rigorous defensive workout by Leo Jaba which the Spaniard just about came out on top of. More effective going forward as expected but looked exhausted when withdrawn in the 66th minute.
MF Jorginho, 8 -- Controlled the tempo of the game for 65 minutes at which point Sarri decided he'd contributed enough and elected to replace him with Cesc Fabregas. The drop-off in Chelsea's ability to press PAOK back was noticeable and a measure of Jorginho's influence in the game.
MF N'Golo Kante, 8 -- Gradually looking more settled in the advanced midfield role Sarri has asked him to play. When Jorginho was subbed, Kante dropped back into the trenches to provide the solidity Chelsea needed as PAOK pressed forward.
MF Ross Barkley, 8 -- Pace, power and creativity all featured prominently in an excellent display from Barkley. Showed great control and finesse when providing the assist for Willian to score.
FW Willian, 8 -- Captain for the night, Willian led by example scoring what proved to be Chelsea's winner in the seventh minute. Was at the hub of all the Blues set-piece plays and didn't look jaded at the final whistle.
FW Pedro, 8 -- All that was missing from another energetic display was a goal. Pedro posed a constant threat to the PAOK defence and drew a fine save from keeper Alexandros Paschalakis in the second half. An accidental clash with the PAOK goalie in injury time saw the Spaniard leave the pitch in some pain and will raise a question about his fitness for the weekend clash with West Ham.
FW Alvaro Morata, 5 -- Squandered chance after chance to leave Chelsea under pressure as PAOK made a game of it in the second half. Was given 80 minutes by Sarri to try and break his goal drought but his failure to do so will only further damage his confidence which looked shot when he was subbed off.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 6 -- Made his first appearance of the season for Chelsea when replacing Jorginho but lacked the influence his teammate had stamped on the game.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 -- Replaced Alonso and provided a reminder of his versatility by playing in the left-back role for Chelsea and proving he is just as good in that position as he is on the opposite side or in the middle of defence.
FW Olivier Giroud, N/R -- Replaced Morata late on. Had a couple of chances to score but accuracy evaded him as it had his fellow striker.